Families are being hit with soaring childcare bills despite taxpayers having pumped tens of millions of extra euro into the industry over the past four years.
New figures show that some crèches are now charging €1,000 a month to take care of one child. A massive gap has also opened up in the cost of childcare depending on where you live.
Parents in the capital are forking out an average of €1,000 a month, but the average price in Carlow is €594.
The crippling costs are revealed in a new study of almost 4,000 early learning and childcare services. It shows prices have increased by 3.6pc in the past year - more than five times the current rate of inflation.
At the same time the average hourly pay rate for staff in the sector is just over €12.55.
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone acknowledged the price rises have come "despite record investment". She has today urged parents to "inform themselves of what they should expect to pay" in their area.
"The cost to families of early learning and care and school-age childcare remains higher in Ireland than in other OECD countries, with wide variation in fees across the country," the minister said.
Ms Zappone is currently engaged in tough negotiations with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe ahead of Budget 2020.
The Irish Independent understands she wants funding for up to five extra hours of subsidised childcare.
Parents can currently apply for as much as 40 hours of subsidised childcare per week, but this could be increased to 45 hours from next September.
Nationally, the average fee for full-time provision now stands at €184 per week, or €736 per month.
The lowest full-time fees, for children two and three years old, were recorded in Carlow at €148.56 per week, with the highest full-time fees recorded in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown at €251.31 per week for children.
If a child were to be cared for in a crèche for 46 weeks of the year, the Dublin family would be paying €4,700 more annually.
The publication of the figures by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs coincides with the final preparations for the introduction of the National Childcare Scheme (NCS).
It will provide parents with a universal subsidy of 50c per hour towards the cost of a registered childcare place for up to a maximum of 40 hours per week.
There is also a more targeted top-up for families depending on their income.
Ms Zappone said that along with existing supports the scheme "will alleviate the burden on parents further, but more needs to be done".
"Efforts to address affordability will continue," she said, adding that the aim is to at least double the investment in early learning and care and school-age childcare by 2028.
Although the Budget is being prepared on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit, childcare is expected to get substantial extra funding for next year.
Since 2015, funding for the Department of Children has grown from €260m to €574m.
Yet the sector is still gripped by a severe shortage of crèche places for babies and toddlers and pressure on the after-school care system for older children.
Ms Zappone also said she is acutely aware of issues around pay in the childcare sector.
"As the State is not the employer, my department does not pay the wages of staff working in early learning and care settings.
"A Labour Court Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) is the most viable mechanism to improve pay and conditions."